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Definition

Adjectives are words that describe or modify another person or thing in the sentence.
The Articles a, an, and the are adjectives.
the tall professor
the lugubrious lieutenant
a solid commitment
a month's pay
a six-year-old child
the unhappiest, richest man
If a group of words containing a subject and verb acts as an adjective, it is called
an Adjective Clause. My sister, who is much older than I am, is an engineer. If an adjective
clause is stripped of its subject and verb, the resulting modifier becomes an Adjective Phrase:
He is the man who is keeping my family in the poorhouse.
Before getting into other usage considerations, one general note about the use or over-
use of adjectives: Adjectives are frail; don't ask them to do more work than they
should. Let your broad-shouldered verbs and nouns do the hard work of description. Be
particularly cautious in your use of adjectives that don't have much to say in the first
place: interesting, beautiful, lovely, exciting. It is your job as a writer to create beauty and
excitement and interest, and when you simply insist on its presence without showing it to your
reader well, you're convincing no one.
Consider the uses of modifiers in this adjectivally rich paragraph from Thomas
Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. (Charles Scribner's, 1929, p. 69.) Adjectives are highlighted in
this color; participles, verb forms acting as adjectives, are highlighted in this blue. Some people
would argue that words that are part of a name like "East India Tea House are not really
adjectival and that possessive nouns father's, farmer's are not technically adjectives, but
we've included them in our analysis of Wolfe's text.
He remembered yet the East India Tea House at the Fair, the sandalwood, the turbans, and the
robes, the cool interior and the smell of India tea; and he had felt now thenostalgic thrill of dew-
wet mornings in Spring, the cherry scent, the cool clarion earth, the wet loaminess of the
garden, the pungent breakfast smells and the floating snow of blossoms. He knew
the inchoate sharp excitement of hot dandelions in young earth; in July, of
watermelons bedded in sweet hay, inside a farmer's covered wagon; of cantaloupe
and crated peaches; and the scent of orange rind, bitter-sweet, before a fire of coals. He knew
the good male smell of his father's sitting-room; of the smooth wornleather sofa, with
the gaping horse-hair rent; of the blistered varnished wood upon the hearth; of the heated calf-
skin bindings; of the flat moist plug of apple tobacco, stuck with ared flag; of wood-smoke
and burnt leaves in October; of the brown tired autumn earth; of honey-suckle at night;
of warm nasturtiums, of a clean ruddy farmer who comes weekly with printed butter, eggs, and
milk; of fat limp underdone bacon and of coffee; of a bakery-oven in the wind; of large deep-
hued stringbeans smoking-hot and seasonedwell with salt and butter; of a room
of old pine boards in which books and carpets have been stored, long closed;
of Concord grapes in their long white baskets.
An abundance of adjectives like this would be uncommon in contemporary prose. Whether we
have lost something or not is left up to you.
Position of Adjectives
Unlike Adverbs, which often seem capable of popping up almost anywhere in a sentence,
adjectives nearly always appear immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify.
Sometimes they appear in a string of adjectives, and when they do, they appear in a set order
according to category. (See Below.) When indefinite pronouns such as something, someone,
anybody are modified by an adjective, the adjective comes after the pronoun:
Anyone capable of doing something horrible to someone nice should be punished.
Something wicked this way comes.
And there are certain adjectives that, in combination with certain words, are always
"postpositive" (coming after the thing they modify):
The president elect, heir apparent to the Glitzy fortune, lives in New York proper.
See, also, the note on a- adjectives, below, for the position of such words as "ablaze, aloof,
aghast."
Degrees of Adjectives
Adjectives can express degrees of modification:
Gladys is a rich woman, but Josie is richer than Gladys, and Sadie is
the richest woman in town.
The degrees of comparison are known as the positive,
the comparative, and the superlative. (Actually, only
the comparative and superlative show degrees.) We
use the comparative for comparing two things and the
superlative for comparing three or more things. Notice
that the word than frequently accompanies the
comparative and the word the precedes the
superlative. The inflected suffixes -er and -est suffice to
form most comparatives and superlatives, although we
need -ierand -iest when a two-syllable adjective ends
in y(happier and happiest); otherwise we

Click on the "scary bear" to
read and hear George
Newall's "Unpack Your
Adjectives" (from Scholastic
Rock, 1975).
use more andmost when an adjective has more than
one syllable.
Schoolhouse Rock and its
characters and other
elements are trademarks
and service marks of
American Broadcasting
Companies, Inc. Used with
permission.

Positive Comparative Superlative
rich richer richest
lovely lovelier loveliest
beautiful more beautiful most beautiful
Certain adjectives have irregular forms in the comparative and superlative degrees:
Irregular Comparative and Superlative Forms
good better best
bad worse worst
little less least
much
many
some
more most
far further furthest

Be careful not to form comparatives or superlatives of adjectives which already express an
extreme of comparison unique, for instance although it probably is possible to form
comparative forms of most adjectives: something can be more perfect, and someone can have
a fuller figure. People who argue that one woman cannot be more pregnant than another have
never been nine-months pregnant with twins.
Grammar's Response
According to Bryan Garner, "complete" is one of those adjectives that does not admit of
comparative degrees. We could say, however, "more nearly complete." I am sure that I have not
been consistent in my application of this principle in the Guide (I can hear myself, now, saying
something like "less adequate" or "more preferable" or "less fatal"). Other adjectives that Garner
would include in this list are as follows:
absolute impossible principal
adequate inevitable stationary
chief irrevocable sufficient
complete main unanimous
devoid manifest unavoidable
entire minor unbroken
fatal paramount unique
final perpetual universal
ideal preferable whole

From The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Styleby Bryan Garner. Copyright
1995 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., www.oup-usa.org, and
used with the gracious consent of Oxford University Press.

Be careful, also, not to use more along with a comparative adjective formed with -er nor to
use most along with a superlative adjective formed with -est (e.g., do not write that something
is more heavieror most heaviest).
The as as construction is used to create a comparison expressing equality:
He is as foolish as he is large.
She is as bright as her mother.
Premodifiers with Degrees of Adjectives
Both adverbs and adjectives in their comparative and superlative forms can be accompanied
by premodifiers, single words and phrases, that intensify the degree.
We were a lot more careful this time.
He works a lot less carefully than the other jeweler in town.
We like his work so much better.
You'll get your watch back all the faster.
The same process can be used to downplay the degree:
The weather this week has been somewhat better.
He approaches his schoolwork a little less industriously than his brother does.
And sometimes a set phrase, usually an informal noun phrase, is used for this purpose:
He arrived a whole lot sooner than we expected.
That's a heck of a lot better.
If the intensifier very accompanies the superlative, a determiner is also required:
She is wearing her very finest outfit for the interview.
They're doing the very best they can.
Occasionally, the comparative or superlative form appears with a determiner and the thing
being modified is understood:
Of all the wines produced in Connecticut, I like this one the most.
The quicker you finish this project, the better.
Of the two brothers, he is by far the faster.
Authority for this section: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman
Group: Essex, England. 1993. Used with permission.
Less versus Fewer
When making a comparison between quantities we often have to make a choice
between the words fewer and less. Generally, when we're talking about countable
things, we use the word fewer; when we're talking about measurable quantities that we
cannot count, we use the word less. "She had fewer chores, but she also had less
energy." The managers at our local Stop & Shop seem to have mastered this: they've
changed the signs at the so-called express lanes from "Twelve Items or Less" to
"Twelve Items or Fewer." Whether that's an actual improvement, we'll leave up to you.
We do, however, definitely use less when referring to statistical or numerical
expressions:
It's less than twenty miles to Dallas.
He's less than six feet tall.
Your essay should be a thousand words or less.
We spent less than forty dollars on our trip.
The town spent less than four percent of its budget on snow removal.
In these situations, it's possible to regard the quantities as sums of countable measures.
Taller than I / me ??
When making a comparison with "than" do we end with a subject form or object form,
"taller than I/she" or "taller than me/her." The correct response is "taller than I/she."
We are looking for the subject form: "He is taller than I am/she is tall." (Except we
leave out the verb in the second clause, "am" or "is.") Some good writers, however,
will argue that the word "than" should be allowed to function as a preposition. If we
can say "He is tall like me/her," then (if "than" could be prepositional like like) we
should be able to say, "He is taller than me/her." It's an interesting argument, but for
now, anyway in formal, academic prose, use the subject form in such comparisons.
We also want to be careful in a sentence such as "I like him better than she/her."
The "she" would mean that you like this person better than she likes him; the "her"
would mean that you like this male person better than you like that female person. (To
avoid ambiguity and the slippery use of than, we could write "I like him better than she
does" or "I like him better than I like her.")
More than / over ??
In the United States, we usually use "more than" in countable numerical expressions
meaning "in excess of" or "over." In England, there is no such distinction. For instance,
in the U.S., some editors would insist on "more than 40,000 traffic deaths in one year,"
whereas in the UK, "over 40,000 traffic deaths" would be acceptable. Even in the U.S.,
however, you will commonly hear "over" in numerical expressions of age, time, or
height: "His sister is over forty; she's over six feet tall. We've been waiting well over
two hours for her."
The Order of Adjectives in a Series
It would take a linguistic philosopher to explain why we say "little brown house" and not
"brown little house" or why we say "red Italian sports car" and not "Italian red sports car." The
order in which adjectives in a series sort themselves out is perplexing for people learning English
as a second language. Most other languages dictate a similar order, but not necessarily the same
order. It takes a lot of practice with a language before this order becomes instinctive, because the
order often seems quite arbitrary (if not downright capricious). There is, however, a pattern. You
will find many exceptions to the pattern in the table below, but it is definitely important to learn
the pattern of adjective order if it is not part of what you naturally bring to the language.
The categories in the following table can be described as follows:
I. Determiners articles and other limiters. See Determiners
II. Observation postdeterminers and limiter adjectives (e.g., a real hero, a perfect
idiot) and adjectives subject to subjective measure (e.g., beautiful, interesting)
III. Size and Shape adjectives subject to objective measure (e.g., wealthy, large,
round)
IV. Age adjectives denoting age (e.g., young, old, new, ancient)
V. Color adjectives denoting color (e.g., red, black, pale)
VI. Origin denominal adjectives denoting source of noun (e.g., French, American,
Canadian)
VII. Material denominal adjectives denoting what something is made of (e.g.,
woolen, metallic, wooden)
VIII. Qualifier final limiter, often regarded as part of the noun (e.g., rocking chair,
hunting cabin, passenger car, book cover)
THE ROYAL ORDER OF ADJECTIVES
Determin
er
Observati
on
Physical Description Origin
Materi
al
Qualifie
r
Noun
Size Shape Age
Colo
r

a beautiful old Italian touring car
an expensive
antiqu
e
silver mirror
four gorgeous
long-
stemme
d
red silk roses
her short
blac
k
hair
our big old English
sheepdo
g
those square wooden hat boxes
that dilapidated little hunting cabin
several
enormo
us
young
Americ
an

basketba
ll
players
some delicious Thai food

This chart is probably too wide to print on a standard piece of paper. If you click HERE, you
will get a one-page duplicate of this chart, which you can print out on a regular piece of
paper.
It would be folly, of course, to run more than two or three (at the most) adjectives together.
Furthermore, when adjectives belong to the same class, they become what we call coordinated
adjectives, and you will want to put a comma between them: the inexpensive, comfortable shoes.
The rule for inserting the comma works this way: if you could have inserted a conjunction
and or but between the two adjectives, use a comma. We could say these are "inexpensive
but comfortable shoes," so we would use a comma between them (when the "but" isn't there).
When you have three coordinated adjectives, separate them all with commas, but don't insert a
comma between the last adjective and the noun (in spite of the temptation to do so because you
often pause there):
a popular, respected, and good looking student
See the section on Commas for additional help in punctuating coordinated adjectives.
Capitalizing Proper Adjectives
When an adjective owes its origins to a proper noun, it should probably be capitalized. Thus
we write about Christian music, French fries, the English Parliament, the Ming Dynasty, a
Faulknerian style, Jeffersonian democracy. Some periods of time have taken on the status of
proper adjectives: the Nixon era, a Renaissance/Romantic/Victorian poet (but a contemporary
novelist and medieval writer). Directional and seasonal adjectives are not capitalized unless
they're part of a title:
We took the northwest route during the spring thaw. We stayed there until the town's annual Fall
Festival of Small Appliances.
See the section on Capitalization for further help on this matter.
Collective Adjectives
When the definite article, the, is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of
people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the
lonely, the unlettered, the unwashed, the gathered, the dear departed. The difference between
a Collective Noun (which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain
contexts) and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:
The rural poor have been ignored by the media.
The rich of Connecticut are responsible.
The elderly are beginning to demand their rights.
The young at heart are always a joy to be around.

Adjectival Opposites
The opposite or the negative aspect of an adjective can be formed in a number of ways. One
way, of course, is to find an adjective to mean the opposite an antonym. The opposite
of beautiful isugly, the opposite of tall is short. A thesaurus can help you find an appropriate
opposite. Another way to form the opposite of an adjective is with a number of prefixes. The
opposite of fortunate isunfortunate, the opposite of prudent is imprudent, the opposite
of considerate is inconsiderate, the opposite of honorable is dishonorable, the opposite
of alcoholic is nonalcoholic, the opposite of being properly filed is misfiled. If you are not sure
of the spelling of adjectives modified in this way by prefixes (or which is the appropriate prefix),
you will have to consult a dictionary, as the rules for the selection of a prefix are complex and
too shifty to be trusted. The meaning itself can be tricky; for instance, flammable and
inflammable mean the same thing.
A third means for creating the opposite of an adjective is to combine it with less or least to
create a comparison which points in the opposite direction. Interesting shades of meaning and
tone become available with this usage. It is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in
the state." than it is to say that "This is the ugliest city in the state." (It also has a slightly
different meaning.) A candidate for a job can still be worthy and yet be "less worthy of
consideration" than another candidate. It's probably not a good idea to use this construction with
an adjective that is already a negative: "He is less unlucky than his brother," although that is not
the same thing as saying he is luckier than his brother. Use the comparative less when the
comparison is between two things or people; use the superlative least when the comparison is
among many things or people.
My mother is less patient than my father.
Of all the new sitcoms, this is my least favorite show.
Some Adjectival Problem Children
Good versus Well
In both casual speech and formal writing, we frequently have to choose between the
adjective good and the adverb well. With most verbs, there is no contest: when
modifying a verb, use the adverb.
He swims well.
He knows only too well who the murderer is.
However, when using a linking verb or a verb that has to do with the five human
senses, you want to use the adjective instead.
How are you? I'm feeling good, thank you.
After a bath, the baby smells so good.
Even after my careful paint job, this room doesn't look good.
Many careful writers, however, will use well after linking verbs relating to health, and
this is perfectly all right. In fact, to say that you are good or that you feel good usually
implies not only that you're OK physically but also that your spirits are high.
"How are you?"
"I am well, thank you."
Bad versus Badly
When your cat died (assuming you loved your cat), did you feel bad or badly?
Applying the same rule that applies to good versus well, use the adjective form after
verbs that have to do with human feelings. You felt bad. If you said you felt badly, it
would mean that something was wrong with your faculties for feeling.

Other Adjectival Considerations
Review the section on Compound Nouns and Modifiers for the formation of modifiers
created when words are connected: a four-year-old child, a nineteenth-century novel, an empty-
headed fool.
Review the section on Possessives for a distinction between possessive forms and
"adjectival labels." (Do you belong to a Writers Club or a Writers' Club?)
Adjectives that are really Participles, verb forms with -ing and -ed endings, can be
troublesome for some students. It is one thing to be a frightened child; it is an altogether different
matter to be afrightening child. Do you want to go up to your professor after class and say that
you are confused or that you are confusing? Generally, the -ed ending means that the noun so
described ("you") has apassive relationship with something something (the subject matter, the
presentation) has bewildered you and you are confused. The -ing ending means that the noun
described has a more active role you are not making any sense so you are confusing (to
others, including your professor).
The -ed ending modifiers are often accompanied by prepositions (these are not the only
choices):
We were amazed at all the circus animals.
We were amused by the clowns.
We were annoyed by the elephants.
We were bored by the ringmaster.
We were confused by the noise.
We were disappointed by the motorcycle daredevils.
We were disappointed in their performance.
We were embarrassed by my brother.
We were exhausted from all the excitement.
We were excited by the lion-tamer.
We were excited about the high-wire act, too.
We were frightened by the lions.
We were introduced to the ringmaster.
We were interested in the tent.
We were irritated by the heat.
We were opposed to leaving early.
We were satisfied with the circus.
We were shocked at the level of noise under the big tent.
We were surprised by the fans' response.
We were surprised at their indifference.
We were tired of all the lights after a while.
We were worried about the traffic leaving the parking lot.
A- Adjectives
The most common of the so-called a- adjectives are ablaze, afloat, afraid, aghast, alert,
alike, alive, alone, aloof, ashamed, asleep, averse, awake, aware. These adjectives will primarily
show up as predicate adjectives (i.e., they come after a linking verb).
The children were ashamed.
The professor remained aloof.